Feeding LeBron

Phones pinged like 3-point attempts in the playoffs. LeBron James informed the Cavs that he would decline his option and, indeed, become a free agent. Where could the King fit in his quest to sit atop the NBA championship? While LeBron can take a team far, we saw this season that the road, while possibly long in the post-season, is one that, to LeBron’s dismay, might ultimately have a Golden ending.

Where does LeBron fit? Let’s look at assists. In the chart below, you’ll see an assist map for the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers. We’ve highlighted only the region containing assists to (yellow) and from (wine) the King. You’ll see he assisted many more times than he received one, indicating his skill as a solo player who often needed only an inbound pass. LeBron contributed 43.48% of the total assists in this group of players, where you may have noticed we removed players with smaller contributions to simplify the graph. No other player’s percentage of assists even is in double digits. Contrast this to baskets made off assists, Kevin Love is the highest with 16.3% following by LeBron with 15.2%.

If nothing else, the chart clearly shows the dominance LeBron had in the Cavalier’s offense. Note that LeBron was able to average 27.5 points per game last season with such a low baskets made off assists rate. Still, should we sweep this aside given the 0-4 record of the team in this year’s NBA Finals? With this in mind, let’s consider the 2015-16 season with Kyrie Irving adding his prowess to the offense that won the finals in historic fashion.

Indeed, there is more balance with LeBron still playing a huge role. Now, LeBron contributes just over 29% of the assists followed by Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova all contributing a percent of assists in double digits. Similarly, LeBron shot 16.6% of the baskets off assists, slightly behind Kevin Love who shot 18.7% and leading J. R. Smith who shot 15.2%. LeBron benefited from a more distributed load. Indeed, the help LeBron may seek this off-season should not only lighten his scoring load, but also open up his own scoring. He could feed and be fed.

Given this, what table do the Lakers set? How does their offense line up, at least with last year’s players?

Interestingly, they were fairly even, albeit with Ball spending time injured. Nonetheless, there is balance to the team seen clearly in the graphic and backed up by the numbers. Could this signal the reign of the King?

Keep in mind that the 2015-16 Cavaliers had distribution among All-Star players. Here enters the recent rumors whispering a Kawhi Leonard trade. Let’s turn to Texas and consider the Spurs from a much less Leonard-injured season, specifically the 2016-17 season. Could Leonard feed the King or receive the blessings of his assists?

We see Leonard’s high contributions overall and in both assists and baskets off a pass. Further, he shared the load with Parker and Aldridge. Could this signal the return to LeBron’s championship basketball?

What do you see in the analytical tea leaves? Keep in mind the trades that might be necessary to bring LeBron and Kawhi to LA. Could we see a return to Showtime basketball? Before long, we’ll learn where passes zip to and from LeBron. Time will tell and even then teams evolve, but then again, isn’t that why we watch both in and out of season?

Image adapted from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/31914841664

This piece is co-authored with Matt Wang.

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